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THE FORUM PAGE ONE: Lights out! Superstorm Sandy K.O.s Weston

Power restoration and road recovery is underway

Sandy caused a huge pine tree to fall across Georgetown Road, held up only by the utility lines on the opposite side. —Tracey Iaizzi photo

The town of Weston is picking up the pieces from Superstorm Sandy, a hybrid hurricane that earned the timely Halloween nickname “Frankenstorm.”

Weston’s public works crew is working around the clock clearing hundreds of trees from roadways that were ripped from the ground from Sandy’s gale-force winds.

At the peak of the storm, more than 100 roads in Weston were impassable due to downed trees and wires.

Crews from Connecticut Light and Power Company (CL&P), the National Guard, and the state Department of Transportation are in town assisting with clearing the roads and power restoration. First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said from the town’s perspective “everything is running smoothly.”

Sandy made its way to Weston slowly, with winds starting to stir on Sunday, Oct. 28. The way it eased into the area led some to believe it wasn’t going to be as bad as weather experts had been predicting for days before. “What fooled people was how long the storm took to hit,” said Jim Magee, owner of Peter’s Market in Weston Center.

But when Sandy hit, it struck with a vengeance, and at its peak on Monday, Oct. 29, dramatic wind surges brought down trees and wires across 138 yards and roads in Weston. Power went out for 100% town.

Remember Irene?

The storm reminded people of Hurricane Irene, and also the 2011 pre-Halloween nor’easter, Alfred, which slammed Weston last year and also caused widespread power outages.

Weston was better prepared for Sandy, having learned valuable lessons from Irene, according to Weston Police Sergeant Michael Ferullo, the town’s Emergency Management Director. He said the town was able to start its response and recovery process much quicker because pieces were in place sooner.

Crews from CL&P gathered at Weston Town Hall Tuesday to get a briefing. —Dave Muller photo

CL&P crews were stationed in Weston on Sunday, Oct. 28, before the start of the storm, so they could hit the ground running the moment the winds died down. CL&P liaison Lissette Andino was embedded with the town on Friday, before the storm hit.

As of Wednesday, Oct. 31, there were nine CL&P line crews in town along with four tree crews and four service crews. “With Irene we just had four crews total,” Sgt. Ferullo said.

Ms. Weinstein commended CL&P for its response so far. She said while it took CL&P three to five days to get a good handle on Weston’s situation following Irene, things went much quicker this time. “Everyone is doing what they can do,” she said.

Police, fire, and EMS crews slept on cots in town buildings on Sunday, including Sgt. Ferullo and Weston Police Chief John Troxell, and were ready to handle calls as they came in. Selectman Dave Muller acted as the town’s public information officer.

The public heeded warnings to stay off the roads and there were no car accidents or ambulance calls during the storm.

Volunteers

sandy-forest-road weston

Weston firefighters clearing a path for Engine 4 to respond to a call on Forest Road (structure damage). —Stephan Grozinger photo

Ken Edgar, a volunteer with Weston’s Emergency Response Committee, said he had an easy time getting volunteers to man the comfort station, which provides residents with shower facilities, water and packaged meals.

He said he had to “scrounge around” after Irene to find enough help. But this time, because there was more public awareness, committee volunteers Neil Horner and Dawn Egan had a much easier time.

“We have more than 50 volunteers. A lot of people have stepped up to help their neighbors,” Mr. Edgar said. Ms. Weinstein said she appreciated the committee’s efforts to rally and help the community.

Restoration underway

A fallen tree from Hurricane Sandy made Glenwood Road impassable. —Tara Tanzer photo

With restoration efforts well underway, there is a huge clean up ahead and many power lines need to be restored.

As of Wednesday morning, state highway Route 57 — Weston Road and Georgetown Road — were open, but Newtown Turnpike from Godfrey Road to Valley Forge Road was still closed due to downed trees and 122 local roads were still blocked. Some homes in the Valley Forge area were reporting that power lines and tree limbs were still blocking their driveways so they couldn’t get out.

Most of the town is still without power. As of Wednesday evening, CL&P was reporting that about 3,500 out of 3,808 customers in Weston — 93% of the town — were still in the dark. There were no estimates forthcoming from the utility company as to when power would be fully restored.

For families looking for groceries, hot food, milk, water or just a cup of coffee and a doughnut, Peter’s Market remained open and didn’t miss a beat from the storm because it had an emergency generator back up.

Crews are working to clear trees and downed power lines. Because of hazardous conditions, residents are advised not to walk along the roads for Halloween, and instead attend a “Trunk-or-Treat” event at the intermediate school. —Ali Farsun photo

“We’re fully operational. We started the generator a day ahead of time so when power went out it we’d be ready,” Mr. Magee said.

He said people have had a tough time driving around town because the roads are like mazes, with trees and wires making roads impassable. “I had to walk from my house to Steep Hill Road, and someone gave me a ride to my store, but we had to drive all over in order to get here. Things are crazy here, everybody’s numb right now,” he said.

Damage

While there were no fatalities from the storm, there were reports that trees had crashed onto some houses and cars and that a resident was injured cutting a tree.

Mr. Edgar said one man told him he and his wife were watching a tree blowing in the wind and decided to move into another room when moments later the tree came crashing down — fortunately missing the house.

Utility poles, such as this one on Old Mill Road, are down throughout Weston, one of the causes for the current 100% power outage in town. —Ali Farsun photo

Statewide, four deaths were reported from Sandy, including the loss of Russell Neary, an Easton firefighter who was killed Monday night when a tree fell onto his fire truck. Sandy is being blamed for at least 55 deaths nationwide, according to the Associated Press.

Sandy’s wrath

Sandy was the 10th hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, according to the National Weather Center. Its wrath was felt from Florida to New England and into the Midwest as far as Lake Michigan and affected one-third of the country.

The storm started as a tropical cyclone in the Caribbean and became the largest Atlantic hurricane in diameter on record.

It was upgraded to hurricane status on Oct. 24, as it moved through Jamaica. When it approached New Jersey and made landfall at 8 p.m. on Oct. 29, it was classified as a “post-tropical cyclone.”

Sandy morphed from a hurricane into a hybrid storm as it merged with two cold weather systems, thus operating not only as a hurricane but also as a winter storm, according to the National Weather Center. Sandy set meteorological records as the second largest storm in size since Hurricane Olga in 2001, and the weather center said it was the most intense storm since the 1938 New England Hurricane.

Tri-state area

The tri-state area was hit hard from Sandy’s surge and high winds, with extensive flooding and damage along the shoreline due to the storm’s landing coinciding with a full moon and high tide.

In New York City, the subway system and tunnels were flooded and airports were closed. Waterfront neighborhoods faced mandatory evacuation while 100 mile per hour winds were recorded on bridges. Generators failed at several hospitals including the NYU Medical Center where neo-natal care infants had to be evacuated.

And the world — those with power, anyway — watched with horror on TV as a construction crane dangled precariously from a $1.5-billion high rise under construction on 57th Street.

A typical scene from the cab of Engine 4 this morning — a service line and pole in the road on Forest Road. —Stephan Grozinger photo

More than 100 houses in one Long Island community burned to the ground at the height of the storm, with firefighters had to watch helplessly because of flooding and high winds.

A record number of people in New York were still without power at mid-week.

Quick action

Connecticut’s shoreline also took a beating with homes destroyed and damaged along the coast.

Gov. Dannel Malloy took action quickly before the storm hit. He activated the state’s Emergency Operations Center on Oct. 26, and signed a Declaration of Emergency the next day. On Oct. 28, President Obama approved Connecticut’s request for an emergency declaration, ahead of Hurricane Sandy making landfall.

As the storm started gearing up on Monday, Mr. Malloy ordered road closures of the state’s highways. The day after the storm, Oct. 30, President Obama made an expedited disaster declaration for the state, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief.

Moving forward

As clean up continues, Weston is moving forward and coping with the storm’s aftermath.

Weston Town Hall is operating regular hours and the library is also open.

Weston public schools closed all week. The decision to open next week will be made on Friday. The senior center is following the school schedule.

The comfort station at Weston High School will be open through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Weekend hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Private showers, potable water, Internet and charging stations are available.

Movies will be shown at Weston High School throughout the week.

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